Limiting access to the Web threatens independent operators Only 10 companies will be allowed to operate nationwide internet cafe chains, the Ministry of Culture has announced, leading to claims that authorities are using unfair competition to tighten their grip on access to the World Wide Web. Ministry spokesman Liu Shifa said only three of the 10 companies would be granted licences to run internet cafes at the provincial level. He said the government was aiming to push independent operators out of the market. 'We will not grant new licences,' he said. 'We hope all internet cafes will be directly operated or franchised by these licensees within two to three years.' Xue Qingfeng, the owner of an internet cafe in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, said the 'unfair competition' could put him out of business because the companies awarded the licences had close government ties. The government wanted to squeeze the small players out so it could control the industry, he said. The companies awarded licences include the China Youth Network, affiliated with the Communist Youth League, and Beijing Zhonglu Space Culture Development, which is operated by the Ministry of Culture. Others include telecom companies and internet service providers. Ma Lan, an analyst with MFC Insight, said the initiative 'would probably drive all the independent internet cafes out of business as they will not be able to compete with the highly competitive industry giants'. Craig Watts, an analyst with Norson, described the move as the 'McDonaldisation of the internet cafe industry'. He said the government wanted to restrict children's access to inappropriate material, improve safety in the cafes and restrict access to certain sites. 'It will now be easier to police, easier to control,' he said. Mr Watts said the government was concerned about certain content on the internet. 'Now if they have a problem they can deal with it on a more controlled basis,' he said. He said the regulation was a positive development in that many of the small and unsafe venues would close. 'The new regulatory landscape should encourage investment in the industry.'